Dominion, p.10
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Dominion, p.10

           John Connolly
 

  She looked to Steven and Rizzo.

  “We all want to be gone from here,” she told them, “but we can’t leave until we’ve learned as much as we can about the Others, and learned how to move against them.”

  “Every minute that we spend here is days on Earth,” said Steven.

  “I know that.”

  “I left my mum back there.”

  “I know that too.”

  “I know, I know,” Steven mocked. “You don’t know anything! It’s not your planet.”

  “Yes, it is,” said Syl. “It’s the only planet I’ve known, and the only home. I care about it as much as you do. But shouting, and leaping across tables, isn’t going to help anyone.”

  “Listen to her, Steven,” said Paul. “If Kal is right—and we’ve no reason to think that he’d lie—then the worst has already happened on Earth. We’ll find out for ourselves soon enough, but if it turns out that we’re among the last of our kind, then we’ll want revenge, and that means knowing as much as we can about our enemy. Just give us a little more time.”

  After a long pause, Steven nodded, although he still didn’t look happy. Reluctantly, Rizzo also consented to remaining calm. The veins retreated back into the floor, and Steven and Rizzo resumed their seats, but Paul was under no illusions that this retreat was anything other than temporary. He felt real trouble brewing, with his brother in particular. Had they been alone, he’d have grabbed Steven and tried to shake some sense into him. God, didn’t he know that Paul was sickened about the fate of their mother as well? And not just her; he thought of his comrades in the Resistance, his friends from Edinburgh, even girls he’d gone out with, and each time he did, his mind flashed back to those animals on Archaeon, their bodies twisting in agony just before they burst apart in a cloud of spores.

  But Steven wouldn’t meet Paul’s eye. He was slumped in a chair, his arms folded in front of him like a sulking child. Rizzo reached out to him and rubbed his shoulder, and Paul saw Alis look at this fond action in vague confusion, before tentatively reaching out her own hand, and patting Steven’s other shoulder. He reached up and squeezed her fingers.

  Syl continued speaking with Kal and Fara.

  “I think I saw one of the bigger creatures that you’re talking about,” she said. “It had made a web for itself deep in the Marque, and beneath it were the First Five. It had attached itself to them, and they were in so much pain . . .”

  “Our sentinels have also glimpsed Others such as this,” said Fara, “but not many. They’re rare, and they stay hidden. Already, the one that you saw may have concealed itself elsewhere.”

  Meia leaned forward.

  “Do the Others know of your existence?” she asked.

  “They know that we once were, and may still be,” said Kal. “But not where we have gone.”

  “Then some of the Illyri probably know of you too,” said Meia.

  “Peris wasn’t too surprised when we found that sentinel on Torma,” said Paul, “but I didn’t get the impression that he knew who had left it there. He seemed happy enough to give a long-dead race credit for its creation, and leave things at that.”

  “Our machinery has been discovered by the Illyri, and other species, from time to time,” said Kal. “Their assumption, we hope, is that those who created it have faded from the universe.”

  “How many Illyri exploration ships and drones have you captured or destroyed since you concealed yourself here?” Meia asked him.

  “Thirty,” said Kal. “Mostly drones.”

  “So they keep sending them into the wormhole?”

  “Drones? Yes. But that ship out there is the first inhabited vessel we’ve seen in many years, yours aside.”

  “How often do they come?”

  “Irregularly.”

  “Has the frequency of their appearances increased or decreased?”

  Kal frowned, waiting for the information to be relayed from the consciousness of which he formed a part.

  “Increased,” he said after a heartbeat.

  “And the technology?”

  “More sophisticated. The drones are faster. The last one almost made it back into the wormhole before it could be destroyed.”

  Meia sat back.

  “Then they know you’re here,” she said. “Or suspect it. You don’t have much time. None of us has.”

  Fara and Kal considered this. In her head, Syl heard the background babble of the Cayth increase in volume as the possibility of their discovery was discussed.

  “We can’t leave,” said Fara.

  “We’re not asking you to,” said Paul. He desperately wanted the Cayth to take their side, but he knew that he didn’t have time for the lengthy, and quite probably ultimately fruitless negotiations that this might require. “But we need everything that you can tell us about the Others, and whatever intelligence you’ve gathered on the Illyri from your sentinels, and we need it quickly. About that much, at least, Steven is right: we cannot remain here any longer.”

  “Give us a little more time,” said Fara. “We will upload the data to your ship, and instruct Syl as best we can.”

  “I’m not waiting here another day,” said Steven. “Tying me up again won’t stop me. You’ll have to kill me.”

  “Steven, we only have one ship,” said Paul.

  Syl rose and walked to the window of the observation deck. Deep in the blackness, a silver fish flickered in its net.

  “No,” said Syl. “We have two.”

  CHAPTER 17

  A hologram of the pursuit ship’s cockpit materialized before them. It was so real that Syl felt she might almost step into it and touch the crew of the vessel. The interior was similar to that of the Nomad, with six Illyri clearly visible to them: one was slumped in the copilot’s seat, a second stood behind her drinking from a container, and four were gathered around an open panel by the weapons system, tinkering with the circuits and wiring. Three of those in the cockpit were female, and three male.

  Paul gestured to the Cayth before speaking, tapping a forefinger to his right ear.

  “No,” said Fara. “They can’t see or hear us.”

  Paul noticed that they were wearing Securitat flight suits. The Illyri killers who had attacked the Military mission to Torma, and from whom he and the others had captured the Nomad, had not been wearing uniforms. They’d stripped themselves of all insignia and identifying marks, right down to their Chips. But these ones had no concerns about showing their true colors. Now that war had been declared, they had no need of camouflage.

  “Can you bring us in closer to the group by the panel?” he asked.

  The image was magnified so that they were now peering over the shoulders of the Illyri. Audio clicked in, and they heard voices discussing wiring and reboots.

  “Any idea what they’re doing?” said Paul. “Rizzo?”

  Rizzo was still scowling in her seat beside Steven. She glanced at the younger Kerr brother instead of answering, which stretched Paul’s temper to breaking point.

  “He’s not in charge here, Private,” Paul barked. “I am. If you’re not able to fulfill your responsibilities as a member of this crew, then I have no use for you. In that case, you can stay here with the Cayth, if they’ll have you, or you can float home. So answer me: What are they doing?”

  Rizzo had never been chastised by her lieutenant in this way before. None of them had. The shock showed on her face. Even Steven looked a little stunned. He unfolded his arms and sat up straighter in his chair. Rizzo, meanwhile, was just short of standing to attention.

  “I’m sorry, sir,” she said. She peered at the Illyri. “The weapons system on some Illyri craft is equipped with a backup power source. It holds a residual charge from the ship’s engines. If the ship’s power is disabled, the backup means that the weapons can still be used to defend it. They’re probably trying to divert some of that power to the ship’s engines.”

  “To what end?”

  She considered it, scratching her head.


  “Well,” she finally said, “I imagine their intention is to get the weapons online and target them all on a single point in the barrier surrounding them in the hope of creating a breach. Then they could use the remaining residual power to kick-start the engines for long enough to get them back into the wormhole.”

  “Thank you,” said Paul. “Kal, Fara: Could that work?”

  “No,” said Fara. “The shield is far too strong. And now that we know what they’re planning . . .”

  She smiled. They heard a low whine from somewhere deep in the interior of the weapons system. It rose in pitch for a moment before fading to nothing. One of the Illyri swore loudly.

  “No more backup power?” asked Paul.

  “None,” said Fara.

  “Can you open an audio link so I can talk to them?”

  “What are you planning to say?”

  “I’d like to find out who they are, and what they know about whatever is going on between the Corps and the Military. I might even be able to convince them to surrender, so we can take their ship without bloodshed.”

  “Why?” asked Fara. “It will make no difference.”

  “I’m not sure that I understand,” said Paul.

  “They are contaminated. Whether they choose to surrender or not, we cannot let them live.”

  “That’s murder,” said Syl.

  “That’s necessity,” said Fara.

  Syl was about to say something more, but Paul shot her a look that silenced her.

  “Just let me talk to them,” he said.

  Fara nodded. “The channel is open,” she said.

  Paul took a deep breath.

  “This is Brigade Lieutenant Paul Kerr calling the commander of the unknown Illyri vessel. We have you on visual and audio. Respond, please.”

  A discussion broke out among the Illyri. Some of them looked around the interior of their ship, as though hoping to spot a hidden camera or microphone. The first group was joined by six more Illyri from the back of the ship, some of them clearly groggy from sleep. Eventually, the female in the captain’s chair stood and stepped forward. She wore her hair shaved close to her skull, revealing a jagged scar that ran from the crown of her head to just above her left ear.

  “This is Fenuless, commander of the Varcis,” she replied.

  “Commander Fenuless,” said Paul. “How is your mission to destroy us progressing?”

  Fenuless smiled grimly.

  “We still remain hopeful of a successful conclusion.”

  “I admire your optimism.”

  “We saw you being drawn into the alien vessel,” said Fenuless. “We assumed that you were dead.”

  “We find ourselves among friends,” said Paul.

  This clearly wasn’t what Fenuless was expecting to hear.

  “Can you provide more information?”

  “I’ll let them introduce themselves, when they’re ready. In the meantime, we may be able to help you.”

  “Why would you want to help us?”

  “I’m not like you: I don’t kill without a reason. Also, I can’t learn anything from you if you’re dead.”

  “True soldiers don’t require reasons,” said Fenuless. “Only orders.”

  “Come on, Fenuless,” said Paul. “You and your crew aren’t cannon fodder. You’re wearing nice Securitat flight suits, and Securitat orders always come with a thick intelligence file attached.”

  “We have nothing to share with you,” said Fenuless.

  “That’s a shame,” said Paul. “If you’ll excuse me for a moment . . .”

  He made a cutting gesture with a forefinger.

  “Audio is off,” Fara confirmed.

  “You have control of all ship’s systems?” Paul asked.

  “Yes.”

  “Turn off their oxygen, please.”

  “Paul?” said Syl. “Are you sure?”

  “They’re Securitats,” said Paul. “I could try to bargain with them until I’m blue in the face, and I’d still get nowhere. Instead, let’s see what happens when they get blue in the face.”

  He watched as the net around the Varcis briefly surged with orange light as it responded to the Cayth command to shut off the oxygen.

  Good, he thought. Let’s see how you like that.

  “Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I need a moment alone with my brother.”

  Paul moved to a corner of the room and Steven reluctantly followed. Paul figured that the Cayth would probably be listening in, but he didn’t care. As for Syl—well, he couldn’t be sure, but he hoped that she’d keep herself in check. He was trying not to think too much about the ramifications of the massive increase in her powers, and what it portended for their relationship as well as Syl’s place in the universe. That way lay madness, and he had enough problems as things stood.

  He waited for Steven to join him, before shifting position so that he was shielding his brother with his back. He placed his left hand on Steven’s right shoulder, and spoke to him softly.

  “Listen to me,” he said. “Thula has family back on Earth, and Rizzo too. I love Mum as much as you do, and the possibility that she may be dead—or, God, worse than dead, after what we’ve seen the Others do—makes me want to kill everyone responsible.”

  “Then why the hell don’t you?” said Steven. “Why don’t you convince the Cayth to let us go, and we’ll head back to Earth and try to rescue Mum, and Thula’s people, and Rizzo’s? Let’s just leave, instead of sitting here talking to Securitats.”

  “And whose people would we rescue first?” asked Paul. “Ours? Our mother?”

  “Yes!”

  “Don’t you think Thula might have an opinion on that, or Rizzo? Why is our family more valuable than theirs?”

  “It’s not like that. You’re twisting my words.”

  “Maybe we could draw lots.”

  “You’re just—”

  “And that assumes we can even get past whatever is waiting for us at the other side of the wormhole.”

  That shut Steven up.

  “Have you even been listening to what’s being said back there,” Paul continued, “to what Meia and the Cayth were discussing? The Others know about the Cayth, and that means that the Corps knows too. By now, I’d say they suspect that the reason why nothing returns from the Derith wormhole may be because of the presence of the Cayth, and the fact that we fled into it has probably only confirmed those suspicions. At the very least, the Corps will have left one ship on the other side of the wormhole, in case we do come back out, but my guess is there’s worse to come.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Think about it: a whole alien species, just waiting to be infested by the Others.”

  Even in his anger, Steven understood. He looked past Paul to where Fara and Kal were sitting.

  “But how can they infect the Cayth if the Cayth have no physical form?” asked Steven. It was a reasonable question, asked in a reasonable tone, thankfully. His brother seemed to be calming down.

  “In a way, all of this is the Cayth,” Paul replied, gesturing at the ship and their surroundings. “They don’t just drift through their world as spirits. They have to interface with their ships, their technology. You’ve seen how nervous they are. If even one spore were to get into a Cayth ship, it would be the end of them.”

  “And you believe that the Others are coming for them?”

  “Yes, with the help of the Corps.”

  Steven kicked at the floor of the ship in frustration, and Paul half expected to see some irate manifestation of the Cayth emerge, rubbing its head. Despite all that was happening, the image made him smile.

  “What?” said Steven.

  “All of this,” said Paul. “You know, neither of us can remember an existence before the Illyri. I can’t recall a time when we weren’t scared, or fighting, or just trying to survive. Now we’re stuck here in the arse-end of the universe, and all I’ve ever wanted to do is go home, but I’m not even sure if there
s a home to go back to anymore.”

  He dug his fingers firmly into his brother’s shoulder, and stared hard at him.

  “Of all the crew, of everyone left who matters to me—even Syl—it’s you I have to be able to rely on the most. It’s you I trust. You’re my brother. We’re blood. But I can’t have you arguing with me, not like you did. Whatever you may think of my decisions, I have to look at the bigger picture. I’m responsible for everyone on the Nomad, and not just them; right now we probably know more about the Others than anyone outside the Corps, and the Cayth can add to that knowledge. One ship won’t defeat them, and won’t win back Earth for us, but what we learn here might.”

  Steven nodded.

  “I’m sorry,” he said. “But when I thought about poor Mum . . .”

  “I know. And I think I have a plan. I can’t go back there, much as I want to. I need to stay with Syl.”

  “Because you love her?”

  “Well, perhaps”—Paul’s cheeks went a little pink—“but mainly because of what she can do. What if the Cayth are right, Steven? What if Syl is our weapon?”

  Again, Steven nodded. “All right. I get it.”

  “But obviously someone needs to go back to Earth,” said Paul. “I think it’ll have to be you.”

  “Me? Alone?”

  “You can take Rizzo, and Alis. I doubt that she’ll want to stay with us anyway if you leave, but that aside, she has some very useful skills that no human has, and no Illyri either, come to think of it. You may well need her more than you know.”

  Steven frowned. “If I take Alis, then who’ll fly your ship?”

  “Well, Meia, obviously, and Thula can help. Remember he was in the flight commander program, and doing pretty damned well too if I recall, before he lost his temper.”

  “Oh yes.” A glimmer of humor played on Steven’s face. Thula had been on his way to becoming a pilot before he punched out a tutor who was annoying him and found himself busted back to the ranks, so he knew his way around a cockpit, even if he was nowhere near as accomplished a pilot as Steven.

  “Okay,” said Steven. “I’ll do it. It may not be an army, but it’s a start.”

 

Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment